SAN DIEGO 34 – PITTSBURGH 24
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — One horrendous first half turned into a nightmarish second half, as the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) dropped a 34-24 decision to the San Diego Chargers (5-8) Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field
The Chargers, who played poorly enough already this season to get head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith fired at the end of the season, drove 78 yards in 17 plays and 9:32 to open the second half. To this point, the Chargers had run 35 plays in Steelers territory, while the Steelers had run just 32 plays overall.
On the first play of the ensuing possession for the Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s backward pass from the 8 skimmed off the backside of rookie tight end David Paulson and into the end zone. Steelers wideout Antonio Brown failed to cover the ball, but Quentin Jammer did for a Chargers touchdown. This sequence basically typified the game for the Steelers.
The Steelers finally moved the ball on their next drive, and Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for a 40-yard touchdown. The Steelers would have gotten the ball back quickly, as their defense forced a punt, but the Chargers faked it and kept the drive alive.
Roethlisberger threw an interception in Steelers territory early in the fourth quarter to vanquish what little hope remained for a comeback. The Chargers got the ball on the 17 and two plays later, quarterback Philip Rivers tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander, who beat cornerback Josh Victorian. He was just signed to the 53-man roster this weekend and replaced seriously toasted Curtis Brown in passing situations.
The Steelers drove 81 yards in 10 plays and 3:39 for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. Wallace caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger and had seven catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had a couple first-half drops that could have changed the flow of the game.
The Steelers scored a second time in the fourth quarter with just 58 seconds remaining, as Roethlisberger fired for one yard to Antonio Brown. He also had a 14-yard hookup in the drive, and Heath Miller had catches for 13 and 26 yards, as the Steelers got to within 34-24.
The Chargers took a 13-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, as Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense sputtered due to the quarterback’s rust, dropped passes, missed assignments, third-down inefficiency and poor field position. The Steelers were 2-for-9 on third down in the first half and 0-for-1 on fourth down as Isaac Redman was stuffed near midfield with 1:58 left.
Wallace had two drops, including what would have been a completion for more than 40 yards to change the field position. And Brown had a drop that would have moved the sticks. The Steelers also had a false start by Willie Colon, who eventually left with a knee injury. Doug Legursky came in and allowed a sack near the Steelers’ goal line.
The Chargers targeted second-year cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Brown. Allen was beaten three times, including twice for a first down, while Allen was burned four times, including a 39-yard scoring pass from Rivers to Alexander and three others for first downs.
Both young corners gave up first-down catches to put the Chargers into field-goal range with time running down in the first half. Nick Novak, who boomed a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter, added a 39-yarder with 50 seconds left in the half to give the Chargers a 13-0 advantage, but the Steelers weren’t done.
Roethlisberger completed three big passes, for 11 yards to Brown, 31 yards to Emmanuel Sanders and 17 yards to Wallace to set up Shaun Suisham’s 49-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
RAVENS, BENGALS LOSE
The Baltimore Ravens (9-4) lost an opportunity to clinch the division, losing 31-28 in overtime to the surging Washington Redskins (7-6)…..In the AFC Wildcard race, Indianapolis (9-4) moves two games ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, improving to 9-4 after defeating the Tennessee Titans 27-24 at home as the Colts improve to 8-2 under interim head coach Bruce Arians. Indianapolis is in the drivers seat for the No. 5 seed. The Bengals (7-6) helped Pittsburgh out, suffering a 20-19 last second loss to the Dallas Cowboys (7-6), falling to 7-6. The race for the final wildcard spot continues to look like a two team race between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati but the New York Jets (6-7) moved just a game behind the Bengals and Steelers with a win against Jacksonville.